After serving in the British Army for five years, Will left the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards as a Captain in 1996. With a huge passion for art, although a geography graduate, Will opened Will’s Art Warehouse in 1996 with the aim to revolutionise the way art is sold.
Our full interview is below.
Can you give you some background information about yourself, how did you fall in love with art?
I’ve always loved art. Although a geography graduate, my passion has always been art and was actually forged by an inspirational art teacher at school. I bought my first piece of art in Moscow in 1990, and now have a huge eclectic collection of all different shapes and sizes, including an eight-foot polystyrene rapper!
Tell me how the idea for Will’s art came about? Take me back to 1996
I opened Will’s Art Warehouse in 1996 with the aim to revolutionise the way art is sold. The gallery moved from its original Parson’s Green location to its current Putney Common location in 2007 and has gone from strength to strength. The whole aim of the gallery was, and is, to make art more accessible by being as approachable and affordable as possible.
What were you doing before you started the company?
Prior to working in the art world, I served in the British Army for five years, leaving the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards as a Captain in 1996.
Talk me through the first few months of running the business? What would you say was the hardest part of starting the business?
The hardest part of starting up was building a client base. I would advise anyone starting their own business to keep their overheads as low as possible while they build clients.
You launched The Affordable Art Fair in 1999, how did that come about?
I’d had a really positive response to Will’s Art Warehouse being such an informal and inviting atmosphere in which to browse and buy art, so I decided to do it on a bigger scale and launched the first Affordable Art Fair in London in 1999. My mission was to make art accessible and affordable to the masses. Art and wine are both things that people can feel embarrassed about; the wine world hugely expanded by being unintimidating, and I wanted to do the same for art.
How were you able to fund the business?
An overdraft of £100,000. I was at a nailbiting £96,000 before it started coming down again!
Tell me about a difficult time starting the business and how you were able to overcome it?
The first two years! You have to be very determined and focussed to make a business work in the early years.
Would you say the initial idea for the company, or that your business model has changed since starting the business?
Yes, I started out focussing on Will’s Art Warehouse, and had three galleries at one point, which was difficult. I then hit on the idea of Affordable Art Fair, and so involving loads of galleries in my ‘democratisation of art’ thrust.
What would you say has been some of the most crucial that you've done to build the company to this level now?
Recruiting excellent people who ‘get the culture’, then empowering them.
Is the business profitable?
Eventually, yes. I do get frustrated that I do a lot to educate and encourage, but get no government support for that non-profit part of the business.
What can we be expecting from you in 2012?
The Affordable Art Fair brand is continuing to expand worldwide - this year we’re launching seven new fairs in LA, Hamburg, Stockholm, Mexico City, Rome, Seattle and Delhi. 155,000 art-lovers visited an Affordable Art Fair last year – more than any other art fair, so there is definitely a demand for accessible and affordable art.
A firm favourite with Londoners, the Affordable Art Fair is bouncing back to Battersea Park this Spring from 15 – 18 March with a fresh and inspiring offering of original, contemporary art.
For further information on tickets and times visit www.affordableartfair.co.uk